Friday, May 31, 2013

Real food ice cream

When Molly was making so much milk after she first calved, she was also making plenty of cream.  After milking we usually pour the milk either straight into the cheese pot or into a collection of 2 L plastic jugs, and put these in the fridge.  When the milk is chilled, the cream rises to the top and its easy to skim the cream of the top and into another container.  Some days I could skim a cup of cream of more!  There are actually two layers of cream, the top layer is really thick (like the thickened cream you buy, but without the gelatin) and the next layer is thinner, like pouring cream, its hard to get all of the thin layer, so we always have a little cream left on top of the milk.

Ice cream! (with cake)
I love using the cream in cooking, I make a cream sauce with butter, flour, cream and stock, or put it in at the end of a casserole, but its hard to use 1 cup a day!  In the past we have made butter with the cream, but with butter being so cheap anyway (under $2 for 250g) its hardly worth the effort (although I don’t buy organic butter).  With the cream building up, I decided that I wanted to try making ice cream.

I've made ice cream once before, just making a custard (chai flavoured) and stirring it in the freezer every hour or so for an ENTIRE DAY and it still had a very icy texture.  With all this cream to use up, I wasn’t keen on repeating that process, so I was very grateful that a friend offered me a lend of her mother’s icecream machine.  It is WAY easier and quicker than my manual method (although there are better ways to make icecream without an icecream machine, such as beating the egg white and sugar, but I didn't know that at the time).  

Icecream recipes
Then came the recipe decisions.  There seem to be several options for making the ‘base’ before you even consider flavours. I prefer to know why there are so many options before I make a decision, so I did some research.  My first suspicion was that with the normal raw-egg-phobia, most recipes seemed to involve either cooking the egg or leaving out the egg all together.  As I was going to use raw milk and cream, I wasn’t worried about using raw egg, as recommended by Nourishing Traditions, but then I found some sites that explained that the cooked egg actually improves the texture of the ice cream.  My other problem was that at this time of year (autumn) we don’t actually have many eggs to spare, so I was wondering if the egg could actually be left out without affecting the taste and texture.  I was also interested in trying a recipe with less cream (as we always have more milk than cream) and this is basically gelato rather than icecream.  And I wanted to try the recipe from the Sweet Poison Quit Plan, which uses dextrose instead of sugar, just to see how it compared.
I decided that I'd better test all the recipes so that I could find out whether egg content was important, and how much difference the cream to milk ratio made to the texture.  My aim was to find the easiest recipe that still tasted good.  I also wanted to know if I could leave things out (when we don't have them, or if they take longer) without affecting the taste.  Testing lots of homemade icecream is just one of the difficult things I have to go through to bring you great real food recipes!

These are the six options that I tested:
  1. raw egg
  2. cooked egg (custard)
  3. no egg (as per icecream machine recipe book)
  4. gelato - less cream  
  5. dextrose instead of sugar
  6. more eggs (raw) – Nourishing Traditions
The base recipe
1 cup of milk, 2 eggs, half a cup of rapadura (evaporated cane juice), 2 cups of cream, 1 Tbs of vanilla essence and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  

For option 1, I just mixed all the ingredients and put them in the icecream machine.  For option 2 I made a custard from the first 3 ingredients and let that chill overnight before making the icecream.  For option 3 I left out the eggs and put the raw milk and cream straight into the icecream machine.  For option 4 I used 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of cream and made a custard. For option 5 I used 3/4 cup of dextrose instead of rapadura and made a custard.  For the final option, I used 4 raw eggs (NT recommends 3 eggs), just to see what difference the eggs really made.

The results
First, I should say that all the ice creams were delicious, if you like cream and vanilla, you will like homemade icecream.  I enjoyed all of the different mixtures, eating them plain, with chocolate sauce or with frozen passionfruit pulp.  Some of them were denser than others, some were icier, but all were delicious.
I was surprised to find that option 2 (the custard ice cream) actually whipped up better in the machine than the uncooked options.  This was a disappointment because it was the most complicated recipe and I was really hoping that it wouldn't be the best one!  The second fluffiest icecream was the last option, with all the extra eggs.  

The best real food option
Of course there is never a best option, so there is a discussion….

If you have a cow, homemade icecream is an obvious way to use up the extra cream you will have when your cow first calves.  It’s a way of saving the cream for later (if you can control yourself), if you can't be bothered making butter.  Making the icecream from fresh raw milk and cream, organic rapadura, honey or maple syrup, and raw free-range eggs is the most nutritious option.  Using raw eggs (if you have them) rather than custard, is quicker, and will keep more of the nutrients in the milk and eggs.

However, due to the sugar content, icecream should be a treat, not an every day food.  If you’re on a totally sugar free diet (and I’m not) the dextrose icecream is a good option (see Sweet Poison).  I didn’t try dextrose with raw eggs, but I imagine it would be much the same.  I know this is weird, but I actually found the dextrose too sweet!  Its supposed to be less sweet than sugar, but I’m so used to using rapadura (and usually only half what the recipe requires) I think I’ve reduced my tolerance for sweetness.  I would reduce the dextrose content if I used it again.  I’m torn really between rapadura, which is condensed cane juice and full of minerals (but also half fructose), and the refined dextrose, which is pure glucose with no other nutrients.  I just bought 5 kg of organic rapadura, so I guess that tells you which one I prefer to use!  *only use dextrose if you're 100% sugar-free diet, see Sweet Poison for more details*

If you don’t have a cow, homemade icecream made from bought organic cream, milk and eggs is still better for you than bought icecream.  I’m not sure if it would be any cheaper, it would depend which brands you bought, but I think its one of those cases where the cheapest icecream option is not worth eating and it would be better to eat less icecream with better ingredients.  Apart from the obvious artificial colours and flavours, commercial icecream is also full of other chemicals to keep it fluffy, things like stabilisers and emulsifiers.  The really cheap brands also use inferior substitutes for egg and vanilla, you’re lucky that a certain milk fat content is required to call it icecream in Australia, otherwise they’d probably skimp on that too.  

If you are buying icecream, read the ingredients list and if there’s anything on that list that you don’t keep in your own kitchen, don’t buy it!  We haven’t bought bulk icecream for several years now because I couldn’t find a brand that used acceptable ingredients (I have eaten the occasional single-serve icecream in the meantime though!).  The worst part of not buying icecream is the lack of icecream containers.... you don't realise how useful they are until you don't have a constant supply of them!

Final words of advice
My recommendation is to use what you have.  If you have plenty of cream, use it, otherwise substitute milk.  If you have plenty of eggs, throw them in the mix, cooked or uncooked, and you will get a fluffier (and more nutritious) ice cream.  Don’t buy anything with ingredients that you don’t recognise. And don't eat too much icecream :)  Beg, borrow or buy an icecream machine if you have lots of cream to use, because making large amounts of icecream is hard work by hand!

Have you tried making icecream?  Any tips? recipes? other ideas?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chicken tractor guest post

Tanya from Lovely Greens invited me to write a guest post on chicken tractors for her blog.  I can't believe how many page views I get for chicken tractors, they seem to be a real area of interest and I hope that the information on my blog has helped people.  I find that when I use something everyday, I forget the details that other people may not be aware of, so in this post for Tanya, I tried to just write everything I could think of that I haven't covered in previous posts.  I tried to explain everything we do and why, so that people in other locations and situations can figure out how best to use chicken tractors with their own chickens.

The dogs like to hang out behind the chicken tractors and eat chicken poo.  Dogs are gross!

If you want to read more about chicken tractors, head over the Tanya's blog and read my post, then come back here to leave a comment.  Tanya lives on a little island off the coast of the UK called the Isle of Mann.  Even though she lives on the other side of the world, we have lots in common, she is into gardening and sourdough, and keeps chickens.  She also makes (and sells) soap and keeps bees.  You might like to check out the rest of her blog, I find it really interesting to see what she's up to, especially with our seasons being opposite, and the Isle of Mann looks like a beautiful (cold) place.

If you have any questions about chicken tractors, please don't be afraid to ask, there are probably many more things that I've forgotten to mention.  There are no stupid questions, honestly, if you are living in a different climate and with different predators, and you're sitting there thinking "but how would this work for me?", just ask and maybe I can help, or another reader may have a solution for you.

By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at}

What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

Monday, May 27, 2013

Learning to knit from a pattern

Over the past couple of winters I've been teaching myself to knit.  Actually my grannie and mum taught be to knit when I was young, but I had to relearn some of the details and teach myself to do more than just knit back and forth.  I made a few simple items, I tried knitting "in the round", ribbing, stocking stitch and started a sock.  So far though I had not managed to follow a pattern and I was still confused about the terminology.  My ultimate aim (apart from finishing two socks) is to finish a vest, from a pattern, so it was time to learn what all those letters meant!

I asked Penguin to send me a knitting book to review and they sent me The Big Book of Knitting.  This book has 100 knitting patterns, including jumpers, cardigans, socks, gloves, scarves and toys.  Not all of them interest me, and not all of them are easy enough for me, but there are plenty for me to chose from!  All the patterns are beautifully photographed.  Strangely, all the patterns are listed at the start of the book, and all the instructions are at the end.  Its doesn't really matter where they are though.  The instructions cover all possible options for casting on, casting off, increasing, decreasing, even cabling and knitting with beads.  Each step of each stitch is photographed in detail and large enough that they are very easy to follow.  There is also a table that explains each abbreviation in the patterns.

The illustrations are very detailed and helpful
As I followed the first pattern that I chose (arm warmers), I was able to flick to the table to check what the pattern meant, and then to the photograph of the stitch if I wasn't sure how to do it.  Sure all of this is on the internet, and I have looked it up there before, but its much quicker to be able to stay put on the couch in front of the fire and flick through the pattern book instead of getting up and looking at the computer, and searching for a decent diagram or youtube.  Disappointingly, there were some mistakes in the pattern I chose, and the left thumb turned out larger than it was supposed to (and the hand too tight), I will be unpicking that and fixing it now that I finished the right hand and it fits perfectly.  Actually, even though it was frustrating, it was good experience to use a pattern with a mistake as I was suspicious when the number of stitches didn't add up, and then as I was knitting mirror images, I was able to figure out where the mistake was as I knitted the other hand.  Apart from being annoyed that I will have to unpick the first thumb, it was kind of interesting to dissect the mirror-image pattern, which I may not have done if they had turned out ok in the first place.  I had to think about each step far more than I would have had to do if I could have just blindly followed the instructions.  I may be able to spot mistakes more easily in future, I'm sure they are quite common in knitting patterns, it must be hard to check every line of every pattern!  I will also not use stripes on a new pattern, as its much harder to unpick and fix mistakes without wasting lots of wool.

The left thumb of my armwarmer is too large, but it was good practice
By the way, the wool is from the haberdashery stall at the Nanango markets, so it didn't cost me much, and I only had a ball of each colour.  I have a bit of a stash from that stall, its good to have some cheap wool to experiment with while I'm learning.

The only thing missing from the book is a women's vest pattern!  But I have plenty of patterns from the op shop and I should be able to follow them with the help of this book.  I just have to finish those socks first.....

Are you knitting this winter?  What are you making?  Any tips for beginners?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Quick cheese for busy people

Its funny how having a cow changes your perspective on life.  For most people, getting good quality milk is the limiting factor for their cheese-making activities, because its expensive and can be hard to find.  Not me, I don't have any shortage of beautiful fresh raw creamy jersey milk, but I don't have time to make a cheese every day!

the reason for all this milk.....
When a dairy cow first has her calf, she makes more milk than the calf can drink.  This isn't a problem for beef cattle, but we've bred dairy cows to produce excess, and if the cow isn't milked out completely she is at risk of mastitis.  The cow's milk production actually increases and peaks in the first few weeks after her calf is born and then (thank goodness!) begins to decrease.  As the calf grows, it can drink more and more of the milk, until eventually it can drink all the cow's milk and then we don't need to milk every day.  At that stage, we have to separate the calf from the cow if we do want to milk.  Once we get to this stage, we only milk once a week, and get about 4L, which is enough for the two of us for the week.  When it comes time to wean the calf and dry up the cow before her next calf is born, her milk production is so low that its safe to just gradually stop milking her dry and her body will stop making milk.  This is not safe at first though because she is just making so much more milk.

When Molly was in that very first stage, her milk production was increasing and we were getting over 10L per day, and Monty the calf was drinking as much as he wanted, but he was tiny, so that was not much.  I start to panic when we have more than 10L of milk in the fridge.  We can't fit much more in there, that means I've got to make a cheese (and refresh the kefir and make yoghurt, but there's only so much of that you need either).

I went through all my cheese-making books and wrote in the margin the time required for each step and added them up to find the quickest cheeses.  I don't want to be up all night stirring curd if we have to get up again at 5:30am to milk again the next morning!  Sometimes cheese recipes can be deceptive, they can seem easy, but take longer than expected.  I found two that are quick and easy, and now I know them, I can use them regularly without having to consult the recipe all the time.

Speaking of cheese recipes, one thing I've noticed is that in across my different cheese recipe books, the recipes for the same cheese are in some cases completely different.  I've come to the conclusion that the recipe really doesn't matter that much.  The important things are using the right starter for the temperature, using fresh milk, starting with clean equipment, stirring and adjusting the temperature (although the recipes may not agree, so the exact temperature is unimportant) and turning the cheese in the mould a few times to get a nice surface.  Having all this milk gives me the opportunity to experiment, and most of that has been seeing how many corners I can cut before the cheese doesn't work, and I haven't made any that were inedible so far!

Feta and Romano, my two quick cheeses
For a hard cheese, I use a romano recipe in one of my books.  All you have to do is heat the milk, add starter, add rennet, cut the curd, heat the curd and scoop it out, all done in about 3 hours, perfect if I remember to start as soon as we get home from work.  The next morning I put it in brine and that evening I take it out of the brine to dry out in a container in the fridge.  When its dry I vacuum pack it (and recently I've started waxing them).  The other quick one is feta, even better, one of my recipes says not to stir it at all, which is fine by me, the process is as above without the heating and stirring and brining!  I cut it and marinate in oil, it lasts for ages in jars in the fridge.

When you make the same quick cheeses nearly everyday, you feel like something different in the weekend, and I was very pleased by the recent release of Gavin Webber's cheese ebook "Keep Calm and Make Cheese - The Beginners Guide To Cheese Making at Home".  In fact I tried three new cheeses in three days!  The Italian bag cheese, the camenbert and the farmhouse cheddar.  Gavin's book has very clear instructions and the recipes are nice and simple, without some of the more complicated and time-consuming steps I've seen in other books.  The cheeses are practical for use in the home, rather than trying to match every step used in a commercial process.  Many of my other cheese books skip over important details, and I'm never sure if I should put the lid on the pot, or if I should be draining the cheese in cheese cloth, or do I air dry in the fridge or at room temperature?  Gavin doesn't leave you wondering, all the steps have just the right detail.  For anyone who is new to cheese, this is a very useful resource, even if you own several other cheese books, its great value and has some recipes I'd never heard of before (I had to make the Italian bag cheese just because it sounded weird).  Throughout the book there are links to Gavin's youtube cheese videos, but I didn't watch any because our internet is so slow.  If you haven't seen someone making cheese before, this would be a good way to get some first-hand experience without having to go to a cheese-making course.

What is your favourite cheese to make?  to eat?  

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

Monday, May 20, 2013

Splitting up paddocks for intensive grazing

Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG), also known as cell grazing, mob stocking, holistic managed planned grazing and possibly other terms as well.  There’s lots of different names for it and each method is slightly different, but whatever you call it, the idea is to split up your land into the smallest size paddocks you can manage and move your animals as frequently as possible.  The opposite is called continuous grazing, where the livestock have access to all the land all the time.  The disadvantage of continuous grazing is that cattle will tend to nibble at the green tips of the grass they prefer, so the roots have to continuously contract to produce more leaf.  Eventually the plant will die unless it is given a chance to recover and re-grow deeper roots.  
grass roots depending on grazing period and recovery time

Rotational grazing allows the grass to recover.  If its done properly, the cattle should eat most (but not all) of the available forage in the time they have in the area, and trample the rest.  They will spread their manure over the area and then be moved away from their manure (and the parasites that can breed in the manure), to a fresh pasture.

The greatest benefit is realised the more  frequently the animals are moved and the smaller the paddock size, but even splitting a property into a few large paddocks will make a difference to the ability of the pasture to regenerate.  This method can also be used to graze forage in sections rather than letting the cattle have all the forage all at once.  This ensures more even grazing and less wastage.

our forage sorghum after the rain
With electric fencing, the moving part is easy.  The thing we have struggled with is providing water to all these small paddocks.  The ideal would be to reticulate water all over the property and move and fill water troughs when the cattle are moved.  This is an expensive option, so if you need to set something up before you can afford the full system that you'd prefer, it is also possible to start with the cattle near a water source and gradually move a temporary fence away from the water, as shown in the first diagram.  The cattle will use the same water source for the entire time they are in that paddock, but they will spend less time in the area they have already grazed (light green in the diagram below) and more time in the new pasture (dark green) as the fence is moved to fresh pasture.
Move the fence away from the water
If there is no water source in a particular area, you can leave a gate open to allow access to water (and even construct a laneway if you have the spare fencing).  The fence can be move gradually away from the gate, allowing the cattle access to more pasture or forage crop with each move.  This is how we grazed our forage sorghum crop recently.
Options for paddock with no water source, moving the fence around a gate
For more information about intensive grazing, see this booklet.  Fiona from Life at Arbordale Farm also wrote an excellent post on mob stocking recently (she is much better with Paint diagrams that I am too).

Have you tried intensive grazing?  How do you make it work at your place?  What is stopping you using it more intensively?  Any questions?


Friday, May 17, 2013

Sourdough biscuits (cookies) - adapting a recipe for sourdough

Since I got my sourdough cake starter, I've been having fun experimenting with other uses for it.  I can be adapted to all sorts of sweet recipes, and as we don't eat a lot of cake, that is a good thing!

mixing up the dry ingredients, the butter and some starter
When I first received the starter it came with all these instructions about how to feed it and look after it.  This included feeding it every few days, not keeping it in the fridge, splitting it after a week and giving most of it away.  Needless to say I ignored these, otherwise I would ave no starter left!  Here's how to actually look after your starter:

  • You can keep the starter in the fridge, in a glass jar - mine has been living there for several months.
  • You just have to get it out every 2 weeks (or so), give it a good stir and tip out half (you can either give that half away, use it in baking or just tip it on the compost)
  • Then top it up with a bit of flour, sugar and milk (or water), stir and leave it at room temp for a day to ferment a little.  Then put it back in the fridge.
Adapting a recipe is easy, some things turn out a little different, but they are all edible, and have a pleasant sourness.  All I do is mix up all the dry ingredients and the butter or coconut oil in the morning that I want to bake and I add a little sourdough starter and stir it up.  Its hard to say how much to add, as it depends on the consistency of the starter and the dough or batter that you're making, just add what looks right.  I leave that in a covered container at room temperature for most of the day.  Then I add the other ingredients, extra milk, eggs and rising agent usually.  If the recipe says to use baking powder, I just use baking soda, as the mix is already acidic and the soda will react just nicely.

So far I have made sourdough cake, sourdough pancakes and sourdough biscuits.  If you don't know anyone who has a "Herman" sourdough starter, there are instructions for making one here.  If anyone has Herman to share, please leave a comment with your location and others near you may be able to benefit from your starter too.  Please also share how you use your starter :)


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What to do with eight acres

Behind the scenes of my blog I can see the search terms that led people to find my blog.  It can be quite interesting to look through them occasionally and see what people are looking for.  Most of them involve chicken tractors, but another question that comes up regularly is “what can you do with eight acres?” or “how much land is eight acres?”.  Today I will try to answer this question.

yarrow flower -  completely unrelated, just a pretty photo
Of course it is a very broad question, there are lots and lots of things you can do with eight acres, but I’m going to assume that you want to live there, feed your family and maybe make a little extra money.  I make that assumption because that’s what I know about, if you want to do something else with your eight acres, you will need to look somewhere else.

If you haven’t chosen your land yet, here a few things to look for.  Focus on the things you can’t change and try to choose the best property you can find in your price range.  Look for clean water in dams, bores or wells, either on the property or at least on a neighbour’s (which means you are likely to have access to similar water).  Contour – some amount of slope is useful for moving water by gravity, and for growing, particularly if you have some slopes facing the sun (north in the Southern Hemisphere, south in the Northern Hemisphere), but steep slopes will be more difficult to work with.  Established trees, particular on the top of hills, are also desirable.  Its much easier to remove trees if there are too many than to try to grow them if you start with too few.  If you're hoping to sell a product, then make sure that you're reasonably close to a town or city that would be a suitable market for your product.

When you live in the city, eight acres probably sounds like a huge amount of land.  It is a nice manageable size.  Its big enough that you can keep a few animals and a garden, but small enough that you can walk from one end to the other in 10-15 minutes.  You can stand in the middle and see both ends of your property.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can keep too many animals though.  Maybe when the grass is green and overgrown when you first arrive it will seem like there is endless feed, but if you have too many animals, the grass will soon be eaten and you will be stuck buying hay or begging your neighbours to use their paddocks.

When you have your block of land, this is where I think you should start if you’re completely new to living on “acerage” (as it is called in Queensland), it is just my opinion though, so do what is right for you and your family.  First get your house organised.  If you already have a house, or when its finished, then you can start working on the area around the house.  If your block is overgrown at first, you need to just work on a small area at first, or you will be overwhelmed.  Clear the area around the house and get that fenced and tidy before you start on the rest of the property.

Now you can start to figure out where to put your garden.  Somewhere close to the house for convenience, a sunny sheltered spot is best, so start to observe where the sun is, how the water flows over your land and where the wind comes from.  Before you start digging, make sure you’re going to have a source of water.  You can use greywater, tank water, dam water, bore water, just make sure its going to be the right quality and quantity, and that you’re not going to run out of drinking water for yourself!  Also consider the water needs of future livestock and plan for these.

Next you can start thinking about animals.  Chickens are the easiest animals to start with.  They are small and manageable, they produce eggs right from the start, and later you can kill them for meat.  If you put them in movable pens (chicken tractors) they can start immediately to improve the fertility of your soil.  We keep 20-30 chickens in four chicken tractors.  The fertility improvement in our paddocks as a result of these chickens is quite obvious.

You might want to look at getting some larger animals too.  You will probably never be entirely self-sufficient with large animals on a small property, especially not at first, and will have to buy in extra feed at some times of the year (you will learn to manage these times better as you get to know your land and your animals), but they will help you to clean up and add fertility to your land.  Our strategy was to fence an acre or two, clear any poisonous weeds using a mattock and then let the cattle (2 steers at first) eat the rest.  Then we could tidy up the dead wood and cut out the smaller trees.  Its important to clear out the vegetation that the cattle don’t eat, otherwise it will thrive after the cattle remove everything else.  You can use the same strategy with sheep or goats.  The thing to remember is that the carrying capacity (the number of animals that your land can support) is not fixed, it can be improved if you manage your land.  We now keep 1-2 steers and 2 dairy cows, with calves.  This is more than we can really support on our land and we use about 5 acres of our neighbour's paddock as well.  Each season we see the pasture improve through all the chicken and cattle manure going into the soil.

The worst thing you can do is to fill up your property with animals and let them eat everything to the ground, unless you plan to sell or eat them when they’ve run out of food.  We often see small property full of horses, with barely anything to eat.  You really need to have a system to rotate your animals through your property so that there is always grass for them to eat (or at least minimise the feed you have to buy).  We have split our property into a front paddock, the house yard, and three back paddocks, each about 1-2 acres.  We rotate the cattle through each paddock as they finish the grass.  When they have eaten nearly everything in one paddock, they go to the next paddock.  This gives the grass a chance to grow back, and the animals are moved away from their manure, which breaks the intestinal worm cycle.  You’re going to need fences, either permanent or electric, to help you divide your property.

If you want to make some money from your property, there are a few things you can do.  A good reference is Joel Salatin’sYou can farm”.  He discusses how to chose your main product, secondary product, how to market and pit-falls to avoid.  Eight acres is plenty of land for a market garden, if you have the soil and the water for it.  You could also plant an orchard of trees that are suitable for your climate and grow them organically and sell the fruit or nuts.  You can produce lots of eggs and poultry meat from chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks or other fowl (although you then need to either ignore or follow all the food-safety regulations for your area).  Or you can sell live poultry and let the new owner figure it out.  Depending what else you decide to use the land for, and how fertile your soil is at first, you can probably keep 4-6 goats, or 2-3 cattle and sell the meat or the progeny.  These animals always need a “herd”, even if it’s a different species, they hate to be alone, so don’t use all your land for something else and think you can get just the one cow in the space that’s left!

The most important thing is to make all your enterprises work together, a good tool for this is permaculture design.  A simple connection is: manure from the livestock feeds the garden, excess vegetables feed the livestock.  Chickens follow the cattle to scratch through their manure for fly larva.  Excess milk fed to pigs (I don't have any experience with pigs yet, so I haven't mentioned them, but they are another animal that you could keep).  There are infinitely more complicated connections that you may be able to use to produce more from your property.  If you keep working on improving the fertility by slashing your paddocks and spreading manure around, you will keep increasing your productivity.

What did I miss?  What else can you do with eight acres (or so)?  What do you do with your small farm?  What would you like to do?  

Getting started with homestead dairy
Interview with myself
Interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Permaculture
Interview with Kim from the Little Black Cow
Interview with Rose Petal
Interview with Marie from Go Milk the Cow
Interview with Ohio Farmgirl

If you want to know more about house cows, my eBook is available from my house cow eBook blog.

By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at}

What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

Monday, May 13, 2013

Three very different garden books

I have a backlog of books to review, and three of them are garden books, I thought they made an interesting contrast to each other, so I may as well review them all together.  I read a lot of books, most of them related to farming and gardening.  Even though many of them repeat the same themes I always learn at least one or two new things from each book, and these books were no different.

Clueless in the Garden

The first book was one of a few that I requested from Wakefield Press.  Its called "Clueless in the Garden - a guide of the horticulturally hopeless", by Yvonne Cunnington.  I usually only read about vegetable gardens, so I was surprised to find that most of this book was about all kinds of garden.  Its published in Canada, so you just have to remember to turn around the north and south references, but at least the temperatures are in celsius.  The references to deer and snow are not so relevant to my garden, but I kind of enjoy reading about them anyway.  The best thing about this book was the chapter on horticultural nomenclature, finally I now understand the difference between a species, a cultivar and a variety.  This book has some really useful general information on topics such as pruning, soil assessment and lots of chapters about non-edible trees, shrubs and lawns that don't interest me now, but will no doubt be useful in the future.  This is a good all-round garden book, that really does cover some basic information for very new gardeners, I think it lives up to its title.

So if the first book was a beginner's guide, the next book, "Gaia's Garden - a guide to home-scale permaculture", by Toby Hemenway, is more of an advanced gardening manual.  I bought this book as part of a kind of an internet book club permaculture discussion, which I really enjoyed, although not many of the group stayed to the end of the book.  This book focuses on edible gardens, with chapters on soil, water and design.  I got really excited when I got to the chapters on plant combinations.  In permaculture, these are known as guilds.  I've never quite understood guilds until I read this book.  It has three chapters on guilds, and that was enough for me to finally figure out what they are and how I might use them in our food forest.  If you're interested in permaculture for a garden or small property, this book is a good start and written in accessible language to make quite complex permaculture concepts easy to understand.  If you're curious about guilds now, this is also a good reference.

The third book is The Wilderness Garden, by Australian author Jackie French. The guilds described in Gaia's Garden were all north American and I wasn't exactly sure how to apply the concept in Australian conditions, so I thought that this book might give me an Australian perspective   Jackie French never mentions permaculture, but I think her gardening (and chicken) philosophy is very close to permaculture, even if she doesn't call it that.  She begins the book with the words "This is a book about ideas - about how to set up a garden that will look after itself", which is of course the aim of a permaculture design too.  This book doesn't actually talk about guilds as such, but it has so many other good ideas for choosing plants, it didn't really matter.  I particularly enjoyed the discussion on fire-resistant plants, given the amount of trees on our property, our house is rather vulnerable and Jackie gives plenty of ideas for fire-proofing the house yard.  Towards the end of the book she also lists vegetables that she grows in her garden and includes some unusual ones that you might not see elsewhere.

What's your most useful garden book?

Never miss a post! Sign up here for our weekly email...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Suggested Reading